Radical islamists are exploiting power vacuums in North Africa to set up strongholds – especially in Mali. On Tuesday Senators John McCain and Sheldon Whitehouse visited in Mali, where the Arizona Republican pledged more help to the Mali government and French forces from the U.S. against al Qaeda-linked forces.

“We will work with the French forces, assess the French and allied forces on the ground, and see to what extent we can provide equipment, training, and technology to rid Mali of these rebels which include al Qaeda,” McCain told reporters.

A military coup in Mali last year set forth the power vacum, and France launched a military offensive in January against Islamist militants threatening the nation’s capital. Reuters reports that Western powers fear that “Mali’s vast and lawless Saharan desert could become a launchpad for international military attacks.”

Mali is set to hold presidential and legislative elections in July.

The current state of Mali and the region as a whole presents a huge problem for the Obama administration, as it represents a stark inconsistency with the narrative that al Qaeda has been decimated and makes it hard for the U.S. to stick to staying on the sidelines.

On ‘Real News‘ Wednesday the panel was joined by former CIA officer Gary Bernsten to discuss what the administration can do about Islamists in Mali and the rest of Northern Africa. Watch a clip from the show below: